The Best Advice for Aspiring Women in Comedy

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Clockwise, from top left: Iliza Shlesinger, Leslie Jones, Nikki Glaser, and Ali Wong.
Clockwise, from top left: Iliza Shlesinger, Leslie Jones, Nikki Glaser, and Ali Wong.

Women in comedy are currently slaying — this isn’t news. But what is new is the recognition. From SNL’s lady tour-de-force to female-fronted shows and stand-up specials (hi, Ali Wong!) to the brand-new double-x Ghostbusters, women are laughing all the way to the top. Not that it’s easy to get there. At Elle’s Women in Comedy event in Los Angeles last night, sponsored by Secret, we asked the funniest movers and shakers — including Wong, Leslie Jones, Nikki Glaser, and Iliza Shlesinger — for one piece of advice they’d give to those looking to come up. Read on for insight, and (of course) some jokes, from the women who work their asses off to keep us laughing.

Leslie Jones

“Actually perform, be funny, and stop trying to prove that you’re a woman. You don’t have to do female jokes. You could just do jokes. You don’t have to prove you’re a woman. You have titties and ass, we already know. You know what I’m sayin’? A lot of women do a lot of jokes to really push forward that they’re females and you don’t have to do that. Whenever I would perform, people would be like, ‘You perform like a dude, you funny like a man,’ you know. It’s like, just go hard. And you cannot give a damn about what nobody says. You really can’t.”

Tiffany Haddish

“Stay focused and do one thing every day toward your goal. Whether that be writing a joke for five minutes or making a phone call to a club, sending a package, calling up another comedian. Every day I do something a little different and I plan it out the night before, but every day I’m writing jokes. Every day I’m writing for at least 10 to 15 minutes, a new joke. That’s like something important. If I don’t do that then I notice I get real depressed, upset, and I gotta perform like, you gotta get onstage at least four or five times a week, that’s important, too, if you’re a stand-up comedian.”

Riki Lindhome

“Just write every single day. And perform as much as you can. That’s what you’d say to a man or a woman. It’s the same thing. Laughs are laughs. If people aren’t into you that’s their problem. You just have to write every day and perform as much as you can. And there’s no way around it.”

Iliza Shlesinger

“A piece of advice I give ALL the time, to stand-up comedians specifically: You have to do the work. You have to get up every night whether you have jokes or not, and just get onstage and put in the work. It’s like being an athlete, you have to go to the gym every day, you have to work out. You could network all you want, you can do it the “wrong” way, but really at the end of the day you need a body of work and you need those scripts and those jokes and those balls to show people that you came to play. Also, be nice. You can be tough and you can be professional and you can be a badass onstage, but there’s no reason to be rude to anyone. It’s important.”

Ali Wong

“Just get up and do it. And to not focus so much on how it’s harder for women, if you’re Asian or black or whatever. Just don’t pay attention to that. Use any weakness you have and wield it and use it as a weapon and a source of power instead.”

Michelle Buteau

“I have a lot of friends who are super talented and very funny, but they constantly talk themselves in a corner like, ‘It’s not good enough, I have to keep fixing it.’ It’s like, no, just put it out there. Don’t tell yourself no before other people tell you no.”

Nikki Glaser

“Just get onstage as much as you can, ‘cause it’s the only way to get good. There’s no short cut to getting good at stand-up. And I would tell that to any, male or female, but females especially, like I would just be unapologetic and surround yourself with people who think you’re funny and who build you up, and the haters gonna hate, and so just like don’t get caught up in all that. It’s hard not to, but I would just say, befriend other female comics or women in comedy, because they’re the only ones who can understand what you’re going through. There’s so few of us that we have to really unite and if we go against each other, that’s what men want us to do so that we don’t succeed. So let’s all get along.”

Cameron Esposito

“People want some framework or like blueprint or plan, and there’s no plan. You just start. Like just: I’m a stand-up comic, go to an open mic. Go tomorrow. Go tonight. You have to be somebody who wants to humiliate yourself onstage for five years until you’re good. And then later you can humiliate yourself as well, in other ways. I was terrible, of course, at the beginning, all comics are terrible, but I just was like, Oh, you just go and you start. If anybody knew how awful they were at the beginning they would never continue to do comedy. You’d never continue.”

Kate Berlant

“It’s so cliche, but you truly just have to do it. ‘Cause that’s all it is. It sounds like the most basic advice but other people, sometimes men, aren’t filled with those self-editing feelings of like, ‘Oh, I shouldn’t,’ or they feel like they just can continue to inherit the Earth. It truly is like, a fake-it-till-you-make-it thing, I truly believe. You just have to pretend.”